• Eternal Feminine Podcast Series

    “Memories of Amice” – An interview with Sybil Rampen

    Please enjoy our interview with Sybil Rampen speaking about her aunt, Amice Calverley, recorded via Zoom on October 19, 2020.

    Ms. Rampen shared some fascinating and candid insights into Calverley’s life and works, which we are delighted to share with you here.

    Read more about Amice Calverley in “Inter-National Treasure.”

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    “More than a Muse”

    After Augusta Holmès (1847-1903) composed her Ode triomphale, a massive composition commissioned by the committee for the Exposition universelle for 1889, the centenary of the French revolution, Saint-Saëns said of her that the French Republic had found a muse. More conventionally in the muse department, Holmès also inspired both a hopeless passion in her teacher César Franck – and his indecorously passionate Piano Quintet.

    And yet it would be reductive to speak of her simply as a muse. Unlike Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler, who both inspired their famous husbands and put their men’s careers ahead of their own compositional endeavours, she declined to do any such thing. She was ambitious, determined to make something of herself as a composer, and – at least partly thanks to an inheritance that left her independently well-off – was able to eschew the typical trajectory of a woman of her time. She never got married, despite all the men of the Paris Conservatoire reportedly being in love with her at one point (per Saint-Saëns); instead she chose to have a long relationship with the writer Catulle Mendès, and though she had five children* with him, did not show much interest in the business of motherhood (she never acknowledged them officially, and Mendès, for his part, had his father acknowledge them as his own, making them his legal half-siblings, thus creating, as a friend of his observed, a fine legal imbroglio).

    *three of whom famously appear in Renoir’s painting Les trois filles de Catulle Mendès.

    In her oeuvre, too, we see the same lack of interest in subscribing to stereotypes of femininity. She did not restrict herself to smaller-scale forms and salon music, which was more typical of the work of female composers – not only did she write songs (often to her own texts), she also worked on a large scale: operas, symphonic cantatas, symphonic poems, often with an epic, nationalistic patriotic aspect (the aforementioned Ode triomphale, which was a huge success at the time, would require 1,200 musicians). Male critics and composers – perhaps a bit bewildered by the combination of her physical beauty and her unconventionality – would comment on the “virility” of her work, sometimes in a complimentary way, sometimes in a less complimentary way; less friendly critics would imply that she was not very successfully trying to be a man.

    Be that as it may, she went her way, and does not seem to have bothered too much with the naysayers. She managed to get her opera La montagne noire staged at the Paris Opéra – a coup in itself as she thus became the first woman to have an opera premièred there – and even though its indifferent reception was to prove a considerable blow to her, she continued to compose and had sketched out a second libretto before her death in 1903 – indomitable to the last.

    -Suzanne Yeo
    October 2020

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    “Trial by Tabloid”

    When Radclyffe Hall decided to write her novel The Well of Loneliness, she knew its lesbian subject would be potentially controversial – not only did she first clear it with her partner, Una Troubridge, she also warned her publisher that the book she was planning would require him to have a lot of faith in her, and stated preemptively that she would not allow any modifications to her text.

    Hall herself was an out lesbian, having lived with Una Troubridge for years, and, before that, Mabel Batten. She was also a successful novelist and poet – her 1926 novel Adam’s Breed had won both the Prix Femina and the James Tait Black prize, a rare achievement. It was this success that made her think that her reputation might make it possible for a novel about “sexual inversion” (the term used by Hall, derived from the writings of Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis, the latter of whom wrote a foreword to The Well of Loneliness) to gain acceptance amongst the general public – and in so doing, to raise public LGBTQ awareness and advocate for understanding in society.

    As it turned out, that was an objective that she achieved, albeit at personal cost.

    She had already experienced the homophobic media circus of the tabloids in 1920, when she sued St George Lane Fox-Pitt for slandering her as “immoral”. She won her case, but the tabloids had a field day, and the general atmosphere of the times can be seen in its fallout: a Conservative MP proposed a law against “Acts of Gross Indecency by Females”, which cleared the House of Commons but not the House of Lords. (It should be said, though, that this was not because of any enlightened attitudes on the latter’s part – on the contrary, the objection to it, as stated by the then-Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead, was that such a law would bring lesbianism to the attention of women who might otherwise never know of it.)

    That said, the initial reception of The Well of Loneliness was largely positive – even the critical reviews had to do with its style rather than its theme, and it was selling so well that the publisher was planning a third print run. Trouble only came when James Douglas, the editor of the Sunday Express, published his editorial – a virulently homophobic diatribe – demanding that the novel be suppressed for its lesbian content. The publisher panicked and sent a copy of The Well of Loneliness to the Home Secretary for review, but unfortunately the Home Secretary wrote back suggesting that the book be withdrawn from circulation. Before long, things escalated into a very public obscenity trial – headed, unfortunately, by a homophobic judge who declared the book obscene, not because of any acts described in the book (it was not explicit in the least), but because its lesbian characters were presented as attractive and admirable. For that reason, therefore, he ordered the destruction of the book, and it was not until 1949, after Hall’s death, that another edition was brought out in the UK.

    (In the US, the book met legal challenges as well, when the Society for the Suppression of Vice put in a complaint of obscenity. There, however, she and her publisher won their case – the court declared the novel to not be in contravention of obscenity laws.)

    In the long term, despite all these attempts at suppression, Hall did achieve her aims. Not only did the legal struggles of The Well of Loneliness draw attention to the book itself, they also (especially in the case of the UK trial) increased the general public’s awareness of institutionalized homophobia, even in Hall’s time. The thousands of letters of support she received after the trial attest to that – she heard both from gay people who drew comfort from the novel and the presence of a protagonist with whom they could identify, as well as straight people who wrote to express sympathy at the way the trial had treated her, or to speak of how the book had changed their attitudes, suggesting that she was indeed an agent of the change that she sought to effect with her brave stand for equality.

    -Suzanne Yeo
    September 2020

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    “A Whole Lotta Lehmann”

    Growing up, Liza Lehmann was part of a well-connected family, due in large part to her father Rudolph’s fame as a celebrated artist. Rudolph (Rudolf) Lehmann was born in Germany but became a naturalized British citizen in 1866, shortly after Liza’s birth. Rudolph created a series of portraits that features autographs by each portrait’s subject, which is now in the collection of the British Museum (visit our Bibliography page to view those pieces!). These portraits featured notables such as Giacomo Meyerbeer (opera composer), Baron de Reuter (founder of the Reuter News Agency), Frédéric Chopin (composer), Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (playwright and poets), and Clara Schumann (composer and pianist).

    Liza’s mother Amelia Lehmann (née Chambers) was no stranger to fame either – her father was a Scottish author and naturalist whose work Vestiges of Creation preceded Charles Darwin’s work on the theory of evolution. (As it happened, Darwin was counted among one of the many famous friends of the Lehmann family). Amelia’s father apparently declared that she was so talented that she did not need any musical instruction; thus, Amelia did not have any formal training until after her marriage. According to Liza in her memoir, “[Amelia] had a wonderful ear, the gift known as ‘absolute pitch,’ and could transpose easily at sight. She wrote some beautiful music, notably an operatic setting of a Goethe libretto; but the same diffidence and exaggerated, almost morbid self-criticism, led her to destroy most of her compositions, including with them many of her best.”1 Lehmann also writes that her mother called herself the “Brutal Truth Department,” a reflection on her method of dispensing criticism to her students (and daughter).

    But however much Amelia disdained her own talents, she was determined that Liza would succeed as a performer and so the young Liza was frequently called upon to sing for friends and family that came to call on the house. Liza tells of one such occasion in her memoir when the pianist Rubinstein was entertaining at their house and charged Liza with singing for the guests. Liza had only just begun to study voice seriously and couldn’t face singing for the well-to-do of the London arts scene; she staunchly refused at her mother’s bidding. However, her father, fearing that she was going the same route of her mother (that is, pursuing music only in study, not practice) threatened to go to bed unless she sang! Suffice it to say, Rudolph had an early bedtime that evening.

    Lehmann’s marriage, followed by an unfortunate illness that damaged her voice, marked the end of her performing career and she turned to composition. Her husband, Herbert Bedford, was also a talented composer, author, artist and inventor. Together they had two sons: Rudolf and Leslie, both of whom showed promise in music and art. The family would often create and sing little rounds together during their leisure time and Lehmann’s memoir reproduces very fine portraits that each son did of the other. Unfortunately, Rudolf died at the early age of 18 while training for service in World War I, which had a profound effect on his mother. It might even be said that Liza never fully recovered from his death; she died just a few years later at the early age of 56.

    However, Liza and Herbert’s legacy persists even today. Their younger son Leslie Bedford, went on to make significant contributions in the field of engineering. Bedford’s developments in radar were crucial to the Royal Air Force during World War II and he was ultimately awarded an OBE and a CBE. Leslie married Lesley Duff, a soprano who was friends with composer Benjamin Britten and actually performed in several premieres of his operas while with the English Opera Group in the 1940s. Their three children, Peter, David, and Steuart were all musical. Peter Lehmann Bedford was a singer at Glyndebourne Opera, while David Vickerman Bedford was an influential musician, music educator, conductor, and composer whose work ranged from pieces for children’s choirs, orchestral works, pop music, and progressive rock. Steuart John Rudolf Bedford (OBE) is a conductor who is known for his work with Britten operas and has worked with such illustrious establishments as Glyndebourne, the Metropolitan Opera, The Welsh National Opera, and English Sinfonia.

    It’s somewhat bittersweet that Liza Lehmann did not live to see her family’s contributions to the world, but I think she would have been pleased to see that her legacy is very much alive today.

    -Daniella Theresia Teodoro-Dier
    September 2020

    1. Lehmann, L., 1919, See Bibliography for full citation.


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    “The Queen of the Piano”

    Clara Schumann was an incredibly talented musician, shrewd businesswoman, and all-around force of nature.

    As a child, her father had her copy out [often-disparaging] letters that he had written to concert-arrangers and patrons (under the guise of “improving her handwriting”), so from a young age, she gained a rare insight into the business side of music. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, also instilled in her an often-paranoid outlook on the world. Wieck saw “plots and cabals” all around, threatening to ruin his hard work and investment in Clara’s success. This attitude, combined with a determination to succeed, is possibly responsible for the single-mindedness with which she approached concert touring and her general status as a professional musician. She often viewed other up-and-coming musicians as rivals, even when she was older and had established herself as the European “Queen of the Piano.”

    Her ability to garner audiences [read: money] made her somewhat blind to the sensitivity of her husband Robert Schumann and her dogged pursuit of income was often a source of strain in their relationship. Yet Clara viewed this as her one asset with which she could support her large family, and, always the practical one, continued to accept concert engagements no matter her physical or emotional state. She played through injury on more than one occasion (noting with surprise that the audience didn’t seem to notice any change in her playing or demeanor) and seems to have been a kind of Romantic super-woman in that sense.

    Clara’s determination (not to mention, physical strength) was famously apparent when the Schumann family was forced to flee the city in the wake of the May Uprising in Dresden. Reportedly, a civil war-like atmosphere had descended, with insurgents barricading many parts of the city. Clara, Robert, and their eldest child Marie fled the city unnoticed to a haven some 20 kilometers away. But several other children had remained behind with a wet-nurse. So two days later, Clara (then 7 months pregnant) walked back through the city, faced down the insurgents, gathered up children and nurse, and walked back out! It is also said that from the time she was five, Clara enjoyed daily walks, sometimes several hours at a time (her father didn’t change his habits just because she was a child). And considering her longevity, it’s hard to say that those walks were inconsequential.

    Clara’s business sense was also apparent in her first teaching post at Dr. Hoch’s Konservatorium – Musikakademie in 1878. Not only was she the only female faculty member, but she garnered a position that was unprecedented for its time: Clara taught a maximum of 1.5 hours per day, could teach from home if she chose, and also had four months off for vacation and touring. She also demanded two teaching assistants (and who could do the job better than her two daughters!) and only taught the advanced pupils. Clara’s name and reputation helped to elevate the status of the school and brought international students, including such noted pianists as Natalia Janotha (Poland), Fanny Davies (England), Carl Friedberg (Germany), and Ilona Eibenschütz (Hungary). Even modern faculty members would be hard-pressed to find such a position!

    Though some might say that Clara’s determination may have caused some feelings of inadequacy on her husband’s part (and possible marital tension), there’s no debating that she was a woman without precedent. Clara Schumann enjoyed a 61-year career as a concert pianist in a male-dominated time: a feat befitting the “Queen of the Piano!”

    Daniella Theresia
    -September 2020

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    “What’s in a name?”

    Both Fanny Hensel’s origins and her legacy are impressive, to say the least. Her paternal grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, was a famous philosopher and literary critic. Moses came from humble beginnings, but soon became well-known and respected in both Jewish and German society. He was an advocate for Jewish emancipation from discriminatory laws in Germany and is credited as one of the forces behind the “Jewish Enlightenment” (HaSkalah) in the late 18th century that ultimately worked to assimilate Jews into European society.

    Moses’ son, Abraham, took this assimilation as far as he could: he converted to Protestantism and added a Germanic surname to try and distance himself from his father (and Judaism). His wife, Lea Mendelssohn (née Solomon), descended from the equally influential Itzig family. Lea’s grandfather, Daniel Itzig, was a banker for two kings of then-Prussia and as such, enjoyed a level of freedom and affluence which was rare among Jews at that time. Like Moses Mendelssohn, Itzig also worked to improve the state of the Jewish people and actually funded members of HaSkalah (including Moses’ teacher, Rabbi Israel of Zamosch).

    Many of Daniel Itzig’s thirteen children were influential in German society, particularly in their roles as patrons of the arts – two of his daughters were patrons of Mozart, while his daughter Sarah (Itzig) Levy studied with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and also had connections with Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. Sarah left a collection of Bach manuscripts to the Sing-Akademie of Berlin, which her niece Lea would later join, as well as her grand-nephew Felix Mendelssohn and grand-niece Fanny Hensel (the heroine of our story…you may have been wondering when we’d get back to her).

    Fanny married the painter Wilhelm Hensel in 1829 (whose portrait of her is featured on this page). Thankfully, Wilhelm did not share the Mendelssohn men’s insistence that Fanny give up music for housework and actually made it part of her daily tasks to sit at the piano every morning. Ironically, they only had one child who survived to adulthood: Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel. Sebastian’s numerous children included Paul Hugo Wilhelm Hensel and Kurt Wilhelm Sebastian, who each made important contributions to the sciences in philosophy and mathematics.

    Given her extraordinary lineage and musical connections, one can’t help but wonder what Hensel might have accomplished if she hadn’t been born a girl. During her youth, Hensel received precisely the same education, musical and otherwise, as her brother Felix, yet society demanded that her sole profession must be a wife and mother. Yet, even with these restrictions, she still produced an astounding amount of music for such a short lifetime. Hensel wrote over 400 works in a wide variety of genres including Lieder, piano works, chamber music, and cantatas. She was one of the first women to compose a string quartet and she even composed the organ recessional for her own wedding in the span of just hours when her brother could not due to an injury.

    From 1831 until her death, Hensel composed, arranged, and directed the music for her weekly salons, whose success did much to raise Berlin’s status as a musical hub. Through these salons and her travels, Hensel enjoyed acquaintances with many prominent musicians like Gounod, Vieuxtemps, Clara Schumann, and the critic Robert von Keudell, whom she consulted for musical advice when her brother Felix became more engrossed in his work. In fact, Hensel’s son credited von Keudell as being instrumental in her finally publishing a few of her compositions (under her married name) just before her death. In her dedication to the field and her musical sensitivity as a composer, it seems that Hensel was a professional musician in all but name.

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    “There’s Something About Alma”

    Alma Mahler-Werfel has always been a bit of a legend, certainly in her capacity as muse and wife (or lover) to an impressive assortment of cultural luminaries. Her elevated status is hardly surprising, considering that her husbands included composer Gustav Mahler, the Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, and the writer Franz Werfel, not to mention the other flings, of varying seriousness, with composer Alexander von Zemlinsky and the painters Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka.

    A good part of her mystique, of course, tends to revolve around the question of how she managed to exert such a pull over all these men, all brilliant but each so different in his own way. As Tom Lehrer famously marveled in his song “Alma”, written shortly after her death:

    Though you didn’t even use Ponds,
    You got Gustav and Walter and Franz.

    And yet she was very far from being perfect – quite the contrary, as it happens! She was extremely self-absorbed to begin with, but, more unforgivably, her anti-Semitic remarks – about Mahler, Zemlinsky, Werfel and others – as recorded in her diaries (or, in some cases, by her contemporaries) have not lost their ability to shock with their casual cruelty. But, as Sarah Connolly argues in her essay entitled “The Alma Problem”, if she was a monster, she was nevertheless a “very intriguing monster”. (Much along the same lines, Marietta Torberg, a friend, or perhaps more precisely a frenemy, famously commented that Alma was “a great lady – and also a cesspit.”)

    And certainly the men who fell for her, one after the other, did find her extremely intriguing, which was perhaps not entirely surprising. She was known for her beauty in her youth, was very well-read and accomplished (well beyond what would be expected of the typical well-brought-up young lady), and also seems to have been quite unashamed of her sexuality. All of this together in one woman must have been like catnip to men in a world where the Madonna/whore paradigm loomed large and where, as a result, women of her social class were expected to “behave” themselves and to avoid scandal.

    Despite her adventurous love life, however, Alma proved to be not entirely unconventional in her decision to become a muse to great men, rather than having a career of her own as a composer (though, admittedly, that would have been much more challenging, given the times she lived in). And so it is that, despite a relatively small, if well-crafted portfolio of compositions, we know her less for the art she created and more for the art she inspired: Mahler’s Fifth and Tenth Symphonies (book-ending their marriage), Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg and possibly the Lyric Symphony* (both written after their breakup), many paintings by Kokoschka (most famously The Bride of the Wind).

    Nevertheless, that portfolio has survived, in no small part thanks to Mahler, who helped to get some of Alma’s music published, in an attempt to repair their marriage after discovering her affair with Gropius. It is an interesting collection, quite sophisticated in its own right, more than just a curious artifact left to us by the muse who inspired so many – and certainly enough to make one wonder what she could have come up with had she turned her not inconsiderable energies to composing instead.

    *There is some uncertainty as to whether the Lyric Symphony was inspired by Zemlinsky’s former relationship with Alma or his relationship with Luise Sachsel, the woman who would become his second wife. Somewhat piquantly, though, what we do know for sure is that Alma would play a role (albeit a supporting one) in the creation of another work related to it. Alban Berg was involved at the time in a passionate affair with one Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, and his Lyric Suite is full of encoded references to their relationship, one of which is a quotation of the line “Du bist mein Eigen” (“You are my own”) from the Zemlinsky work. Which in itself might not seem to have much to do with Alma, except that Hanna Fuchs-Robettin was also Alma’s sister-in-law through her final marriage to Franz Werfel. Berg and Fuchs-Robettin’s illicit correspondence was assisted by Alma and the philosopher Theodor Adorno (quite the pair of couriers!), who helped them carry letters to each other – a magnificent illustration of how extraordinarily entangled the artistic circles of Vienna were at the time.

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    “From Tsars to Stars”

    Irena Régine Wieniawski (aka Poldowski) came from a world-famous line of musicians. Her father, Henryk Wieniawski (1835 – 1880), was steeped in music from birth and from a young age, made a name for himself as both a violinist and composer. He embarked on extensive world tours, often accompanied by his brother Joseph, an equally accomplished and respected concert pianist and composer. It was through his friend and colleague Anton Rubinstein, the celebrated pianist, that Henryk met the Hampton family in London and fell passionately in love with their daughter, Isabella. Isabella’s mother looked kindly on the match – her brother was a famous Irish pianist by the name of George Osborne, and so perhaps she felt more comfortable with yet another musician in the family. But Isabella’s father was more hesitant to accept this vivacious violinist into the family.

    A romantic story tells of Henryk Wieniawski finally winning over his future father-in-law by playing his own composition Légende on the violin and gaining his approval. But a more realistic account states that Mr. Hampton only consented to the marriage after insisting that Henryk take out a substantial life insurance policy and stop touring so much in favor of settling into the responsibilities of married life. Henryk and Isabella eventually married in Paris in August 1860 with quite the wedding party! Rubinstein had the privilege of walking Isabella down the aisle, while the opera composer Gioacchino Rossini served as witness and Belgian composer and violinist Henri Vieuxtemps provided the music. Henryk and Isabella then moved to St. Petersburg, where he had been engaged as the court musician. There, Henryk continued to compose, perform, and teach. He imparted a particular bowing technique to his students, which many still use today when playing particularly difficult staccato passages. Sadly, Henryk developed a heart condition and died, while on tour, at the young age of 44 years old.

    In 1896, Isabella moved her young family of four children back to London, and our story of Régine Wieniawski begins. It seems that Régine held her father’s same zest for life and music, but that didn’t preclude the rest of the family from living intriguing lives. Régine’s older sister Henryka Klaudyna (Henrietta Claudine) married an American stockbroker named Joseph Loring, who was aboard the Titanic during its doomed voyage across the Atlantic. After hearing news of his death, Henrietta booked her own passage to New York on the Carmania, from which she cast flowers into the sea near the site of the Titanic‘s sinking. This poignant scene inspired a New York Times article entitled “Flowers for the Ocean Grave,” which may in turn have have inspired the painting Le supreme adieu, by the French artist Rene Achille Rousseau-Decelle. In the painting, Henrietta is shown casting flowers into the sea, with icebergs floating placidly in the background.

    Régine’s children also led high-profile lives, they became part of a social circle in 1920s London known as the Bright Young Things. This group consisted mainly of young aristocrats and socialites who enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle of fancy dress parties, elaborate treasure hunts, and a (somewhat less salutary) fondness for hard drugs. This lifestyle didn’t work out entirely well for Régine’s daughter, Brenda Dean Paul, an early “It Girl” and celebrated beauty who later became notorious as an opiate user, jailbird, and failed actress.

    Meanwhile, Régine’s son, Brian Dean Paul, earned his nickname “Napper” from his tendency to fall asleep in doorways due to his drug use. He seemed to continue the family tendency to be well-connected with the arts scene – he was a good friend of Lucian Freud and even had his portrait painted by him in 1954! Brian Dean Paul led an apparently less eventful life than his sister, living out his days quietly until his death in 1972, which also marked the end of the Paul baronetcy.

    More first-hand information about the goings on of the Bright Young Things can be found in the novel Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. Waugh moved in the same circles and it is said that Brenda Dean Paul inspired at least one character in the novel. (Stephen Fry created a film adaptation called Bright Young Things in 2003, featuring such celebrated actors as Peter O’Toole, Stockard Channing, Emily Mortimer, David Tennant, and Michael Sheen.)

    As for Régine herself, it seems that in addition to her musical creations, she also dabbled in fashion at one point (possibly after separating from her husband, although the dates and circumstances are unclear). Régine set herself up as a dressmaker for society ladies and some of her clients were even members of the royal family, but she had to wind up the business when it started taking a toll on her health. Her sudden and early death prompted many tributes from fellow musicians and critics alike, speaking to her much-loved personality as well as to her musical contributions.

    From tsars to stars, just imagine how many lives would have been changed had Mr. Hampton not approved that initial marriage between Henryk and Isabella!

    -Daniella Theresia Teodoro-Dier
    July 2020

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    “Six Degrees of Pauline Viardot”

    One of the reasons we chose Pauline Viardot as our first featured composer was that, in her capacity as diva and salonnière, she knew pretty much everyone who was anyone in the musical scene of the time. (This also held true for the literary scene, since many famous writers also moonlighted as music critics, but of that more later.)

    What this also meant was that she connects a number of composers we will be featuring in future episodes of the Eternal Feminine podcast series: she knew Fanny Mendelssohn and was a good friend of Clara Schumann. If we branch out from first-degree acquaintances, we find that her salon guests included George Alexander Osborne, an Irish pianist who later would turn out to be the uncle of Régine Wieniawska aka Poldowski, and César Franck who would later teach Augusta Holmès. A little more remotely, we find Alma Mahler (via Wagner –> Hans von Bülow –> Mahler), and Liza Lehmann (who studied with Jenny Lind, a student of Viardot’s brother Manuel Garcia). If we extend the web even further, we find that her friend Meyerbeer was a friend of Ignaz Moscheles, who taught three teachers of Charles Villiers Stanford, who taught Vaughan Williams, who in turn taught Amice Calverley.

    One cannot help, though, but also marvel at the parade of eminent names that crossed Viardot’s path in general, and so we couldn’t resist leaving you with a partial (and somewhat gossipy) list:

    • as a little girl, she met Lorenzo da Ponte in 1826, at the first unabridged performance of Don Giovanni in the US (her parents and older siblings were starring in it).
    • she studied piano with the young Franz Liszt (and, not entirely surprisingly, had a huge crush on him).
    • the poet Alfred de Musset proposed to her at one point.
    • George Sand based the heroine of her novel Consuelo on her. As her friend and quasi-mentor, she also steered the young Viardot away from the volatile de Musset (whom she had experienced first-hand, having been his ex-lover), and towards the much more stable affections of Louis Viardot, the director of the Théâtre italien in Paris.
    • she played duets with Chopin, who also gave her permission to arrange some of his pieces for voice and piano. Later, she would sing in the performance of Mozart’s Requiem that took place at his funeral.
    • Saint-Saëns dedicated Samson et Dalila to her.
    • Delacroix designed her costume for the role of Orphée in Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice.
    • she sang the Act II duet of Tristan und Isolde with Wagner as Tristan at a private recital, while Berlioz sat by jealously (!!).
    • Gounod, who may or may not have had an affair with her, referred to her as the “godmother” of his career.
    • Meyerbeer wrote the part of Fidès in Le prophète for her.
    • the Russian writer Turgenev fell madly in love with her in 1843 after seeing her in a performance of Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia. He promptly got an in with her by offering to coach her in Russian, and ended by having a longstanding affair with her (he lived practically next door to the Viardots for the better part of forty years, in what seems to have been a kind of unofficial ménage à trois). He wrote libretti for three of her operas, and she is also said to have inspired some of his works, such as A Month in the Country and Smoke.

    – Suzanne Yeo
    July 2020

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